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Daughters of the Dust

About the Film
Year Released: 
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Daughters of the Dust is a drama about the struggle between tradition and progress. Set in the early 1900s, it is the story of the Pazants on the eve of the family's migration from their Sea Island home to the mainland, leaving their land and legacy behind. Nana Pazant, the eighty-eight-year-old matriarch of the family, fights to keep the family she raised together on the island to maintain the traditions handed down by her African ancestors. Eula, her granddaughter, is pregnant with the baby of a man whom her husband believes raped her. Haagar Pazant would like to throw off the traditions of the past for the opportunitites of the future which await her and her family in the North. She wishes to establish herself as the family matriarch of the New World. Cousin Yellow Mary has returned from Cuba "ruint." but on this eve of departure, she comes to reclaim her family place.

Daughters of the Dust is the first dramatic feature film to explore the traditions of the Gullah, the descendants of African slaves who once worked the indigo, rice and cotton plantations and later inhabited the many islands dotting the South Carolina and Georgia coastlines. These African Americans speak with a distinct accent known as "Gullah" or "Geechee."

Julie Dash has fashioned a dense drama about tradition and family, rich in cultural artifacts. Ms. Dash, herself a descendant of the Gullah, drew heavily from their oral traditions and extensively researched her ancestors for five years with the assistance of Geechee scholar Margaret Washington Creel. Thus, the film represents a historical document. The superb acting ensemble, all known for their work in other independent features, speak in the thick native accent, and the men communicate with complex Gullah hand signals. Daughters of the Dust is the work of an accomplished director who enlivens her research with expressive cinematic nuances. Slow motion, striking color, voice-overs, dreams and flashbacks enrich the drama, lending it a lyrical quality that is as unorthodox as the story.

Alberto Garcia, Daughters of the Dust: Institute History, Sundance Film Festival

Poster Image: 
Film Director: 
Production Info
Reported or Estimated Budget: 
St. Helena Island and Hunting Island, off the South Carolina coast
Other Interesting Production Info: 
Film was shot in 28 days.
Categories About the Film
coming of age
rural life
Racial/Ethnic Affiliation: 
African American
Filmmaking Team
Writer's Name: 
Julie Dash
Lindsay Law, Julie Dash, Arthur Jafa, Steven Jones
Arthur Jafa
Primary Cast: 
Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara-O
Exhibition/Distribution Info
Kino International
Box Office Earnings: 
Where to find it/How to get it: 
DVD widely available

- 1991 Sundance Film Festival, world premiere

- 1991 Toronto Film Festival, international premiere

- 2004 Library of Congress chooses Daughters of the Dust to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry

- 2005 awarded Excellence in Cinematography Award from 15th Cascade Film Festival of African Films in Portland, Oregon

- 2012 Sundance Film Festival

Personal Film Review and Cultural Context: 

            Julie Dash’s first feature film is a landmark of Black independent film and the L.A. Film Rebellion. The film focuses on the women of the Peazant family who are of West African descent, living on an island off the South Carolina coast. The Gullah people are faced with the decision of either leaving their West African culture for the “mainland” or remaining on the land that embodies the spirit of their ancestors. Dash’s use of resonant music and the element of spirituality transports the audience into the indigenous ways of the Gullah people, providing a greater understanding of the Gullah immigrant experience in the early 1900s. Daughters of the Dust first premiered at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. It is the first film by an African-American woman to be theatrically distributed in the United States. This film is an American classic, currently preserved by the Library of Congress in the United States National Film Registry. Since Daughters of the Dust, Julie Dash has directed various projects including music videos for Tony! Toni! Toné! and television films like The Rosa Parks Story starring Angela Bassett and Love Song starring the R&B singers Monica, Tyrese, and TLC’s Chili. She has also wrote and directed for the HBO series Subway Stories. When she is not working on her own projects, Dash lectures to the students of elite universities across the United States like Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Harvard.

Georgina Dominique